Category Archives: GLBT fiction

“An Orphan World” by Giuseppe Cavuto— Confronting Poverty and Homosexuality

Caputo, Giuseppe. “An Orphan World”, translated by Sophie Hughes and Juana Adcock, Charco Press, 2019.

Confronting Poverty and Homosexuality

Amos Lassen

A father and son live in a run-down neighborhood, in an unnamed seaside city without amenities and struggle to keep their heads above water. They are challenged to come up with increasingly outlandish plans for their survival rather than be discouraged by hardship and problems. . Even when a terrible, macabre event rocks the neighborhood’s bar district and the locals flee, they decide to stay because staying together is what matters. matters is staying together. “An Orphan World” interplays a very tender father-son relationship while exposing homosexuality and homophobia with brutal honesty. With delicate lyricism and imagery. Giuseppe balances violence, discrimination, love, sex and defiance.

The novel is about poverty, and the resourceful ways in which people manage to deal with it. It also looks at the body as a space of pleasure and violence. This novel is an honest love letter between a father and son.

Bound on either side by the sea and the lights of wealthier neighborhoods, father and son trawl the beaches near empty home, looking for anything to add to their unsteady income. They are always together and always optimistic. They find beauty and wonder in the grind of everyday life.

They do, however, clash over the father’s increasingly naive schemes for instant cash. The son immerses himself in the city, exploring his sexuality in seemingly non-ending encounters with the bodies of other men and he becomes both object and subject of male desire. When homophobic violence shakes the neighborhood, father and son join a group “of lovable reprobates – a motley collection of barflies and addicts.”

The facade  of naivete hides a multi-layered plot that challenges the reader to question everything and blurs the line between observer and observed, human, animal and inanimate object. Past and present come together when author Caputo juxtaposes the tender devotion of family against violence and against a jubilant carnival of music, sex and light. What he says to us is that we are all the same.

Each chapter tells of two different moments in the life of the narrator (this alternates between each story). Caputo also uses contrast in his character’s close relationship with his father and the often distant sexual exchanges which take place in his life as gay man. Light and darkness are in constant play throughout the plot.  The novel begins as a tale of poverty and that continues throughout.

The father thinks up numerous schemes to make money. It is their lack of money which forces them to move to the section of town which is without any lights at night. Later, when their electricity is cut off because they cannot afford to pay the bill and they illegally reconnect it themselves, they are unable to put any lights on in the front of the house in case they are seen from the street. We see their poverty as a journey into increasing darkness even though light is not presented as the benevolent opposite.

The novel’s central event, overshadows everything— the mass murder of homosexuals, presumably on one night. We are made fully aware of the horror in its aftermath. The narrator’s sex life is revealed in an uncompromising manner. There are no ‘relationships’ but simply a series of sexual encounters. Some of these take place in a sex club he visits, others online. By Caputo placing this alongside the narrator’s loving relationship with his father shows us that he is not emotionally empty. The narrator’s connection to his father is evident from the beginning. There is a beauty in their relationship that survives the ugliness which surrounds them.

The father / son relationship is one of love and companionship rather than tension and resentment; the narrator’s homosexuality is central to his story without overwhelming the narrative; and the ugliness of its poverty and violence is never quite wins in the face of its human virtues.

“Swimming in the Dark” by Tomasz Jadrowski— Youth, Love and Loss

Jadrowski, Tomasz. “Swimming in the Dark”, William Morrow, 2020.”

Youth, Love and Loss

Amos Lassen

I want to tell you a. bit in advance about a new book coming our way in April. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Tomasz Jadrowski’s “Swimming in the Dark” and it is going to be a big book come Spring. I finished it three days ago and cannot stop thinking about it.

Set in Poland in 1980, anxious and  disillusioned Ludwik Glowacki, is due to graduate university. He has been sent along with the rest of his class to an agricultural camp where he meets Janusz and the two of them spend a summer swimming in secluded lakes, reading forbidden books and falling in love. Their meeting had come by chance but it did not take long before it became intense and their love for each other became totally consuming. They were lucky enough to be in a beautiful natural world removed from society and the constraints it puts on people. But the real world is still there and it is repressive and Catholic as was Poland at that time. Now that the summer has ended, they are sent back to Warsaw, and to the realities of life under the Party. They have been exiled from their personal paradise and must decide how they will survive; and in their different choices, they find themselves torn apart. It seems they each are looking for a new and different kind of paradise.

Janusz rises quickly in the ranks of the Communist party and receives a very special and highly coveted position in the government. Opposite him is Ludwik who is drawn toward protest and the reality of the world that they two men live in. Of course, their love had to remain secret and they understand that both personal and political differences are tearing them apart. They struggle to survive in a world whose governmental regime is facing collapse.

We have all been there and we are all well aware of the difference between first love and maturing to the point that people grow apart. We realize that the place where one is born and/or lives is arbitrary as is privilege. I often think about how my life might have been if I had been born five or ten years earlier and somewhere else. Yet, we all feel the pull of home even though it is never how we once imagined it. Not much has changed in Poland where those members of the LGBTQ community are in need of comfort, support and reassurance. They still hide but this is not unique to Poland and we know that it happens all over the world. Can we used Ludwik and Janusz for examples to live as we feel we should? You will find this and many other questions in the book and if you are lucky, you will find the answers in yourselves. I do not want to say any more about the plot because I want you to discover it by yourselves like I did. The prose is gorgeous in this novel about “youth, love, and loss – and the sacrifices we make to live lives with meaning.”

“The Handyman’s Summer” by Nick Poff— And Then There Was Summer

Poff, Nick. “The Handyman’s Summer”,  Independently Published, 2019.

And Then There Was Summer

Amos Lassen

In the fifth book of Nick Poff’s “Handyman” novels, I find myself enjoying every word as I did in the previous books. The characters and the stories are fresh and written in compelling prose. Set in the spring of 1987, Handyman Ed Stephens and his life partner Rick Benton are looking forward to “a lazy, peaceful, even boring summer.” However, as on life, things do not go as planned as Ed and Rick are suddenly find themselves amid mystery and scandal and they learn about people’s kindness and cruelty. 

Evie Fountain, the bag lady, has a stroke suddenly and dies. Ed and Rick are interested in her rundown house and learn that Evie’s house which is overrun with greenery also is a place of secrets. It seems that there is a legend about Evie, and the two men become, determined to learn the truth that has fueled the rumors that have been spoken of in the town of Porterfield, Indiana, during the thirty years of Evie’s life there. A personal journal is found in the house, Ed and Rick become immersed in the town’s shame of the tragedy of the town’s bigotry and hate.

It wasn’t that they already didn’t have what to do that summer. They are taking care of and mentoring, Neal, the first openly gay student of the high school has graduated ad is having second thoughts about going to college. They work hard to convince him to leave the town. Then Ed’s friend, Dr. Paul Klarn, asks Ed for help when one of his patients is an unidentified victim of a queer-bashing. Ed and Rick decide to take Neal into their home. As if all of this is not enough,  Ed’s mother, Norma, also stirs up drama involving Ed in her troubles with her garden club. Ed develops a plan to deal with the obnoxious woman who is determined to run the club and make it suited to her own interests.

Muriel Weisberg has become a columnist for the local newspaper and uses her column to solve problems, share her opinions and unconventional wisdom and begins to work on the mystery of Evie’s house. What Ed and Rick want to do is to bring acceptance and freedom to Porterfield and show us how in a story without a dull moment.

Poff never disappoints and I am so glad that he decided to resurrect his series. I remember when he wrote to be to announce book four and I felt like old friends were returning to my life. It’s the wait between books that tries my patience, however.

“Galileo”, (Evan Reed Mysteries #2) by Ann McMan— Humans and Morality

McMan, Ann. “Galileo”, (Evan Reed Mysteries #2), Bywater Books, 2019.

Humans and Morality

Amos Lassen

We first met Evan Reed in Ann McMan’s “Dust” which was set two years prior to “Galileo”. She is still dealing with the gunsight wound she has and Stevie, her daughter is already looking at colleges. Stevie’s dad has remarried a much younger woman and Father Tim, Evan’s childhood friend, is questioning is faith. Evan’s relationship with publishing magnate, Julia Donne seems to be heading  somewhere. A lot is going on.

Tim Donovan, a Catholic priest has a guilty conscience. Katherine Donne a Parisian socialite long ago got rid of her self-respect. There is a group of amoral men whose fortunes and statuses make them distinguished and enviable. Because of their immorality, Evan enters the picture. Evan “is a highly principled political operative with an imperfect past, tasked with uncovering compromising material on a rotten judge up for nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court before he can be rushed through confirmation.” (This alone makes for a relevant read).

Evan knows she does not have a n easy task in trying to find damaging information against the judge since he’s been vetted many times. After an interview with an enigmatic madman, Evan finds herself trying to solve a puzzle that gets more complicated as time passes. Crime, money, conscience, and greed come together and this ensures that danger is sure to come. We are off on an intense journey into a world of power struggles and strange desires, and a subculture of promises that are  made, kept, and broken. This is a world that lies beneath the one we are standing on.

Evan is not afraid of danger and as she gets closer to it, her personal life comes alive. Julia Donne has her eyes on Evan. She is a progressive book publisher who wants answers to questions about her dead father. This side of the plot brings romance into mystery and gives a book with something for everyone. Such is the skill of writer Ann McMan. Both the mystery and the romance are well paced, timely and beautifully written. McMan knows where the story is going and her characters are developed to enhance that journey. It is through the characters that we look at the morality and problems of human experience. We read of the risks and the demons that society presents to us as well as how to surmount them. I really am not much of a mystery reader but “Dust” pulled me in and I have been awaiting this book for a while. Now it seems that I am waiting for the third.

“Rilke’s Ghost: A Novella” by Michael Ampersant— A Ghost Story

Ampersant, Michael. “Rilke’s Ghost: A Novella”, Lust Spiel Books, 2019.

A Ghost Story

Amos Lassen

I always look forward to something new from Michael Ampersant because he not only entertains but he provokes us to think. That is what good literature is all about as far as I am concerned. Even in this ghost story, I spent more time thinking about it than I did reading it. In just 23 pages Ampersant opens a whole new world for us.

Michael A,, while on vacation in the town of Duino on the Adriatic Italian coast, provoked the legendary German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. He used Google to translate Rilke’s “Duineser Elegien” (Elegies from the Castle of Duino). Today, Michael takes his summer vacation in a chalet in Switzerland, three kilometers away from the grave of the poet. We wonder if there is to be another challenge to Rilke again. To do so would be to bring the most sophisticated ghost story of modern history to the people and the result would be an exorcism of serendipitous proportions.

I fell in love with the wit of the prose and the attempts to answer whether this really happened. More than that I can’t say except that we are taken a word journey unlike anything you have ever done. More than that I cannot say without ruining the reading experience. Find a half an hour and lose yourself in this delightful read.

“Continental Divide” by Alex Myers— Discovering the Meaning of Masculinity

Myers, Alex.  “Continental Divide,  University of New Orleans Press. 2019.

Discovering the Meaning of Masculinity

Amos Lassen

Veronica Bancroft never felt like the girl she was born. He became Ron but when telling his parents, they decided to no longer pay part of his Harvard tuition fees and so he left school in order to find a way to be financially independent. He went to Cody, Wyoming where he finds work on a ranch. He was in “the land where men were men, or they got the hell out of town.”

“Continental Divide” by Alex Myers is the story of Ron’s journey to self-acceptance. It is also the story of hiding who he is.  He wears compression shirts and showers  when no one else is in the bunkhouse, and falls for outspoken Cassie, a horse wrangler and co-owner of the ranch with her brother Gus. When Ron is outed by Cassie’s malicious younger brother, Marc, he’s fired and has a target on his back. He is determined that being transgender will not limit what he can do and where he can go. “I have to stand up and live as who I am, with the expectation that people will treat me decently.” Through great courage and a great deal of pain, Ron is able to fix both old and new relationships “finds a home in himself and his chosen family.” His story is a “moving meditation on fear, masculinity, and the power of coming out.”

This is a touching and personal coming-of-age novel about Ron’s struggles to forge his identity as he deals with the dangers of a world that does not want him.

 

“Frankissstein” by Jeanette Winterson— A New Kind of Love Story

Winterson, Jeanette. “Frankissstein”, Grove Press, 2019.

A New Kind of Love Story

Amos Lassen

Where would I be without the wonderful literary stories of Jeanette Winterson? Her inventiveness and gorgeous prose has always been there for me and I so appreciate the contributions she has made to the canon. In “Frankissstein”, we are taken back to Lake Geneva in 1816 and meet nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley who is inspired to write a story about a scientist who creates a new life-form.  We then move forward to Brexit Britain where Ry,  a young transgender doctor is falling in love with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor  who leads the public debate around Artificial Intelligence and who has been carrying out experiments of his own in an  underground network of tunnels. At the same time, Ron Lord who is freshly divorced and living with his mom, is primed to make his fortune launching a new generation of sex dolls for men who are lonely. Across the Atlantic Ocean, a cryogenics facility is housing dozens of bodies of men and women who are medically and legally dead … but waiting to return to life.

Have you ever wondered what will happen when humankind ceases being the smartest beings on the planet? Winterson shows us that we are much closer a future  of that kind than we realize. In this reimagining and reanimated “Frankenstein”, we have a “cautionary tale for a contemporary moment dominated by debates about Brexit, gender, artificial intelligence and medical experimentation” and it is filled with new ideas.

This is a book that attempts to shift our perspective on humanity and the purpose of being human in a very dark and entertaining way. By relooking at Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, Winterson takes us into a story about modern-day neuroses and issues. We see the fine line between horror and high camp. It takes a brave person to dare to change the classics and succeed and this is what Jeanette Winterson has done. She looks and laughs at the nature and the future of life, death and what it means to be human. She “examines immortality and science’s ethical obligations through the alternating narratives of two people living centuries apart:  author Mary Shelley and Ry, a transgender medical doctor interested in cryogenics.” Her characters wrestle with many profound questions of what it means to be alive, if the brain could survive outside of its mortal body, and if the soul can be reborn in a reanimated mind. The story is wildly funny and profoundly sad. Another question asked here is whether we are our bodies or our minds, neither or both? Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein rises into a post-Internet world and his idea of creating life from death is much closer than before.

“Rowdy Armstrong 2: Pro Wrestling Rookie” by David Monster— Rory is Rowdy

Monster, David. “Rowdy Armstrong 2: Pro Wrestling Rookie”, Independently Published, 2019.

Rory is Rowdy

Amos Lassen

I first met Rowdy Armstrong in David Monster’s first volume of the Armstrong series and I fell in love with his irreverence and sex appeal. So before I go any further, let me say that there are sexually explicit scenes here (remember there is a difference between sexual explicitness and porn).

Handsome, blond Rory Pedersen who we first met in “Rowdy Armstrong: Wrestling’s New Golden Boy” where he learned the homoerotic nature of wrestling and that his fellow wrestlers use sex as a way to get ahead (or a tail) in the ring. comes to the A.W.P.W.’s Las Vegas Facility with his boyfriend, cute, muscular, blond Mike Wall. They are forced to rethink and redefine their relationship because every male there wants to get their chance with Rory, and one of the bigger men has already claimed him as his own. Rory “remeets” his friends Scott, Eb, and Bravon who he knew from training and he realizes that he has “confusing feelings” for Bravon. Bravon, however, is busy with other matters.

Dyer Anderson, the Ex World Champ, has offered to mentor Rory, personally and during their private sessions become very private, Dyer crosses the line. This is no wonder since there training sessions include tag team matches, a Battle Royal, and a cockfight in the showers between the two “biggest” men in the facility.  What else can we expect in a place where hot trainees live together, sleep together, shower together and fight each other for their spot in the next session.

David Monster once again introduces us to a large cast of hunky men who go through love and eroticism in naturally and sexy ways. But it is not all about sex but rather about love and caring for one another. For fictional characters, the guys all seem very real. I was immediately pulled into the story and I must admit that I often found it to be arousing. Monster knows how to tell a story but even more so, he knows how to pull us into it. It is not great literature but rather a fun read and that is okay—- we do not only read great lit. This is an escape and a delightful one at that. I realize that I have not said a lot about the plot and that is because I want everyone to have the same virgin reading experience that I did. I am sure you will be glad that I gave no spoilers

“Judge Me When I’m Wrong”,  (A Charlie Mack Motown Mystery) by Cheryl Head— Charlie Returns

Head, Cheryl. “Judge Me When I’m Wrong”,  (A Charlie Mack Motown Mystery),  Bywater Books, 2019.

Charlie Returns

Amos Lassen

I am not much of a mystery reader so I was surprised when I was totally into Cheryl Head’s adventures of Charlie (Charlene) Mack, Detroit’s Motown Private Investigator. We first meet Charlie some three books ago and you can find my reviews bright here on my web site. Charlie was born and raised in Detroit and she has been able to build a respected private investigator firm with a fine team of fine investigators.  In the latest book in the series, “Judge Me When I’m Wrong”,  Mack’s preparation for a grand jury testimony becomes worthless when his client has a totally unexpected change-of-heart. Charlie and Gil Rutkowski, one of her investigators realize that defending him will be very difficult.

Charlie also, at the same time, is able unravel a disturbing plan to alter the outcome of a crime lord’s conspiracy trial but she did not fully realize the consequences of her meddling Before she knows it, Charlie’s dangerous meddling that puts her personal and professional lives and all that she holds dear at risk.

The beauty of the Charlie Mack series is the reality and honesty of the plots and the wonderfully developed characters. I love how author Cheryl Head does not hold back how she feels about crime and those involved in it. We meet “money laundering crime bosses, slick attorneys, shady jury members” as seem by Mack (and therefore Head), a private eye who believes in the judicial system. Of course, I must mention that the prose is beautiful as well. Because this is a mystery/crime thriller, I cannot say much about the plot. The one problem I had, and this is my own problem) is that I began reading this about 5:30 PM and did not stop until I finished it, weary but exhilarated. I wonder how long I will have to wait for another book in the series.

“Fire & Ice” by Rachel Spangler— Bouncing Back

Spangler, Rachel. “Fire & Ice”, Bywater Books, 2019,

Bouncing Back

Amos Lassen

In “Fire &  Ice”, writer Rachel Spangler introduces us to Max Lauren who is one of the top sports reporters is dealing with a heavy dose of self-doubt due to a mistake that wounded and possibly shattered her sense of pride. Because of this she is now covering curling, a sport she detests. As of that is not bad enough, trouble awaits her when she moves on the ice, a place where she has always been welcomed and respected.

We also meet Callie Mulligan, the head of America’s second-place curling team. Callie seems to radiate her passion for her curling, a sport in which players slide stones on a sheet of ice towards a target area that is segmented into four concentric circles. Being originally from the South, I had no idea about the nature of curling. Spangler’s narrative spurred me to see what I could find out about it. Callie has both the physical and the mental abilities for the sport and we see that she could become Team USA’s top player. However she is not famous and does not have the financial backing to make this happen. She believes that with someone like Max covering the sport, this could change. However Max is not keen about this so Callie tries to endear her to the sport. We see that this becomes a passionate affair between the two.

Just as this is a novel about passion and competition, ambition, redemption, and the need to come together, we feel Spangler’s passion as she wrote this story. The question of whether Callie’s and Max’s passion can endure so that it does not affect Callie’s performance on the ice hovers over the relationship between the two women. We cannot forget that Callie is a disgraced reporter looking for a comeback. As Max is consumed by being reinstated, Callie is not just concerned but obsessed curling  and has managed to rise above the negative attitude of her family, friends and bosses that curling is not a real sport. She has managed to get 3 school friends to come along and she has reinforced them with leadership and charisma and they are able to be ranked second among the top fifteen teams until they are USA Team 2 and gain a chance to fight for a place at the Olympics in two seasons. They struggle financially and each woman works full time but they are just barely able to find enough sponsorship to cover travel and hotels.

Spangler follows the rise of Callie and the fall of Max from bring a top reporter to being moved to cover the “lame” sport of curling. We learn that Max’s demise is due to her for having fallen for the wrong woman and the wrong story and  she loses everything aside from her disdain for curling. Callie and Max need each other but for different reasons. Callie sees Max as a way to gain media exposure while Max sees Callie as a way to recement  her good graces with the bosses and her position as an honest and well-read sports reporter. Their initial meeting did not go well but women realize the importance of working together and each has inner strength and determination prevents them for giving up. Soon their attraction for each other is stronger than anything else.
Spangler has created two  strong main characters who are only deterred by each’s central problem— Callie’s love for curling above all else and Max’s inability to let her feelings overcome her bitterness about her job.

This is not the first book by Rachel Spangler and in fact I have read several over the past ten years. This book shows a level of maturity in her writing that was not always there in her other books. Sometimes this is just what an author has to find his turf and I believe that Spangler has done just that with “Fire & Ice”.